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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Life (06/15/06)

TITLE: The Carnival
By Maxx .


Paling Blvd. was deserted, the congestion of daytime long since cleared. Amy stood on the sidewalk beneath a moonless sky. Across the street was darkness. A vacant space where the carnival had been. It was gone. She’d missed it.

She crossed mid-block, footfalls echoing on the asphalt as her vision struggled in the failing light. Empty popcorn bags rustled beyond the open gate as shadowy rats foraged among candy-apple cores and half eaten hotdogs. Startled, a yelp wrenched her throat. She glanced behind, eyes wet, toward a sputtering porch lamp.

I’m never going back.

The grounds were cloaked in pitch. Cropped grass had been trampled to dry nubs that crackled as she walked. Disappointment swept through her in waves. No Ferris-wheel or carousel, no rollercoaster or game booths, no clowns. Nothing…

…except in the distance, a solitary shimmer. Near where the arcade once stood, a single beacon.

She followed it.

The shape of a structure emerged from the murk like the bow of a freighter in fog, looming over her. The front was festooned as a giant face with huge painted eyes about the windows. A large gaudy clown’s mouth stretched the full breadth and served as the entry. Bulbs flickered beneath the thick lips, neon teeth.

Amy shuddered. There was nothing but emptiness around her. She turned the knob and went inside.

“Hello?” A hall filled with mirrors contorted her form as she inched forward. The door swung shut.

Ahead, a scraping clamor echoed beyond view.

A silhouette stumbled into the room, tall and wide, blackened by an ominous glow. “Chicago.” A man’s voice muttered. “Everyone laughed in Chicago.”

Amy pressed against a grinning canvas, her heart pounding.

The figure turned, gasping, teeth bared. His face was painted white, crimson dots on his cheeks, eyes arched high with blue makeup, and a leering maw drawn to reach his ears. “Who…? Get Out!” He snarled, words slurred. “We’re closed.”

Her knees went slack. “I missed the carnival and…”

Tendrils of smoke slithered along the floor.

The clown lurched near, lifting a revolver. The burnished steel glinted sharp and black.

Amy fought for air, cold enveloping her, a scream tearing from reflexive depths.

The tendons in his neck flexed as he thrust the weapon forward. “Shut up! You hear? Shut up!”

She bit her lip, swallowing barbed and painful sobs.

His eyes darted between the increasing glow and the cringing girl. “What are you doing here?” His breath was fetid, laced with alcohol.

Amy spoke, but no words came. She struggled. “I … I only wanted to join the carnival. Run away with it to…”

He pushed her to the floor. “Idiot brat!”

Her back bumped against a balloon mural and she lifted her jaw. “I’m … I’m sixteen.”

Smoke thickened as the room began to seethe in yellow and orange. “Punk kid.” He ran his fingers through billowing hair then pointed to the spreading flames and laughed.

Her chin trembled. “No, no.” She shook her head. “I want...”

“Want?” He coughed. “You want the carnival?” He clawed at the make-up on his face. “You came for this?” Dark streaks scarred his façade. “This stuff isn’t the carnival.” He brandished the gun in the rising tumult. “This is.”

“I don’t believe you!”

“The carnival destroys. Breaks you.” His voice cracked. “I was funny in Chicago. Funny. But they forgot…used me.” He placed the muzzle to his temple. “Red in tooth and claw.” His wide eyes blinked. “The carnival is death.”

Amy stood. “No! You’re wrong. There’s laughter, excitement! Nobody tells you what to do! Parents don’t fight! The carnival makes people happy!” She reached to him, fingers grasping. “Please, I want to go away with you.”

Black smoke twisted about the clown’s feet. “Can’t you understand?” A tear traced the curve of his cheek. “It’s all a lie. The carnival won’t help you.”

An explosion shook the building and heat erupted into the room. Flames leapt to the ceiling, swirling, hungry. Amy stumbled toward the door but stopped and turned.

The clown hadn’t moved.

He trembled, sad and slow beneath his makeup. “If you’re not happy before you get here, don’t bother.”

“Then what hope is there in life?”

He shrugged as the hem of his costume ignited. A shot detonate. His body fell.

Amy staggered out, landing in the stubbled grass as the building collapsed. “What hope?”

The bell of a distant steeple beckoned, as if in answer.

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This article has been read 1277 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jessica Schmit06/22/06
Hmmmmmmm...A clown (who thinks he's still funny), with a gun and a beautifully written sentance like this "A large gaudy clown’s mouth stretched the full breadth and served as the entry. Bulbs flickered beneath the thick lips, neon teeth." No one else can write like that. Dear lord I hope it's who I think it is because that is SO COOL! Well, I'll never think of kids running away to the circus the same. Powerful metaphor. I'll probably re read it a few times to let the story fully digest. I was viewing the carnaval as life without hope and God. Oh, adn the sentance at the end was one of th ebest endings of any story I've read lately.

Very descriptive, dark piece. (which I love). Incredibly well written. I could see everything you described. Man, that clown was so freaky! This entry is so different than anything I've read lately. I hope it places. Change is good. (and
Amy Michelle Wiley 06/22/06
David Ian is going to love this story! LOL Honestly though, good job. I like the deeper meanings, and the last line was cool.
Suzanne R06/23/06
I think I can guess who wrote this too! I love the way you use words ... it's pure art. Your imagery is profound indeed. Although I'm not personally a fan of dark, even so, I think this is awesome.
Sherry Wendling06/23/06
Whoa, my galloping heart! Fabulous writing here, loaded with suspense, eerie symobolism, and at last, a hint of hope. Dark or light, this is true craftsmanship, beginning to end!
Lori Othouse 06/24/06
Wow, this was great! I loved the contrast of the despair in the carnival. The description of the clown was excellent. Loved the ending too. Awesome!
Jan Ackerson 06/25/06
I love the way that you can draw us in with your vivid descriptions, yet also be so subtle (as in the last sentence). Excellent.
George Parler 06/26/06
I wasn't scared of clowns but I am now. But I couldn't stop reading it. Excellent job.
Dr. Sharon Schuetz06/26/06
I loved the last sentence. Great writing here, but what's so new about that?
Pat Guy 06/26/06
Max - for some reason, I have more questions than answers on this one.

The main ones are about the smoke along the floor and then around his feet, the glow from the flames, the explosion that rocked the building (but didn't knock her down)and the flames that lept to the ceiling. She was there in the strucure during all this, but wasn't afraid enough to run, she even stopped to look back and ask a question after the explosion and fire that I'm sure she could see was about to engulf the clown.

Of course - it COULD just be me! AND regardless - it was rivoting.
T. F. Chezum06/26/06
Very vivid and intense. I always enjoy your imagery ... even the image of a deranged clown. The last sentence was very profound.
Garnet Miller 06/27/06
How intriguing. Reminds me of the movie "Something Wicked This Way Comes", based on a book by Ray Bradbury. The carnival highlighted the faults and sins of the townsfolk, exploiting their weaknesses and taking advantage of them. Good article.
Trina Courtenay06/27/06
Maxx, my eldest has always been afraid of clowns and I thought how silly but after reading your entry I'M WITH HER! This one truly scared me. Great Job!

Shari Armstrong 06/28/06
Wow - what is there to say? Wow
Debbie OConnor06/29/06

As far as I'm concerned you've done great work here. I had you rated near the top of my sheet. I enjoyed the Carnival and your return to the dark and spooky. Thanks. The end was great, too. Just enough!
Crista Darr06/29/06
Did someone say, "WOW"?? Your back!! I'm blown away by your work. Gripping, suspenseful, scary, yet written with such mastery that it is beautiful.
janet rubin07/16/06
You're a freak, man. good job.